Recreational Use of Domestic Water Supply Reservoirs

AWWA Policy Statement on Recreational Use Of Domestic Water Supply Reservoirs

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) supports the principle that water of the highest quality should be used as the source of supply for public water systems. Accordingly, the risks and potential mitigation measures of any recreational activity on water supply reservoirs should be identified and evaluated. In the evaluation, utility-, customer- and other stakeholder-determined acceptable levels of risk should be considered.  No recreation should be permitted on finished-water reservoirs (as opposed to raw-water reservoirs) under any circumstances.

Protection of public health and drinking water quality should be the highest priority in operational decisions for reservoirs used jointly for water supply and recreation. Decisions regarding recreational use of domestic water supply reservoirs should be consistent with any governing or applicable source water protection goals and objectives developed and implemented by the utility and other responsible parties, all in an effort to safeguard reservoir water quality.  Utilities should have an active outreach effort to ensure that they remain informed about reservoir management policies and activities, particularly if they do not have direct ownership or management control of the subject reservoir(s).

Recreational uses of domestic water supply reservoirs and the land-based infrastructure necessary to support such uses can add microbial, physical, and chemical contaminants to the drinking water produced from the reservoirs. Water utility decisions on permitting recreational uses of water supply reservoirs should consider the following issues: (1) the potential for water quality degradation, (2) the public health risk, (3) the acceptance of such health risks by customers, (4) the current required level of treatment, and (5) additional treatment requirements, uncertainties, and costs that may be incurred. Recreational uses should be prohibited in those instances where a scientifically-based risk assessment, or, in the absence of a risk assessment, the best available scientific data demonstrates a probable or imminent degradation of water quality or hazard to public health that cannot be controlled or mitigated in a cost-effective manner.

When considering proposals for recreational use of domestic water supply reservoirs, the water utility should work with stakeholders to develop an integrated reservoir management plan that includes consideration of a wide range of factors (e.g., nutrient loading, invasive species, boating and body-contact activities, and appropriate water quality monitoring) as a means to evaluate and, if necessary, mitigate water quality impacts and associated risks. In cases where the utility does not have direct management control, the utility should strive to partner with landowners, as well as local, state, and federal government entities in an effort to shape recreational management policies and actions in favor of water quality protection.  Body-contact recreation (e.g., swimming, water skiing, wind surfing), as well as the use of gasoline- and diesel-powered engines on watercraft, should be discouraged. In addition, boat inspection/washing stations and restrictive use of live bait should be considered to prevent the introduction of invasive species (such as zebra mussels or non-native algal species) that could potentially destabilize a reservoir’s ecology and water quality. Where feasible, costs for monitoring, evaluations, and mitigation should be borne by those proposing or benefiting from the recreational activity, not by the utility or its customers.

If recreation already exists on a reservoir, the water utility should work or continue to work with stakeholders to develop an integrated reservoir management plan and associated implementation actions to mitigate water quality impacts and risks.

Practices specified in this policy statement are consistent with all other pertinent AWWA policy statements.

Adopted by the Board of Directors June 13, 1971, reaffirmed Jan. 28, 1979, and Jan. 25, 1987, and revised June 23, 1996, and June 13, 2004, and Jan. 25, 2009, and June 10, 2012, January 14, 2017, and April 5, 2022.